Islam and Science

By: Nazeer A. Khan (faculty of Civil Engineering Technology).

The Limitation of Human Knowledge

Whenever theological discussion happens, we inevitably fall into two camps: the evolutionists and the creationists. Evolutionists naturally make reference to science to support their point of view. This is natural since today’s sciences are the limits of man’s current knowledge and understanding. The issue that is troubling with this methodology is that Islamic regulations are handed down from Allah (God) and the rationale for these regulations may be beyond our present knowledge and our present science. It is mentioned in the Qur’an (the final revelation of God) that Allah is All Knowing which means that He has knowledge of which man is unaware. Let’s discuss one avenue of human limitation. Consider the solar system; it has a center (the sun) which is the largest mass in the system and around the sun, there were nine orbital planets, one of which was Pluto. However, Pluto was then demoted to the status of a comet on August 24, 2006. As is evident, our knowledge changed and what was previously known to be a fact is now no longer so. Let’s now compare the universe to an oxygen atom. Both systems have a large dense center and eight orbiting objects (planets and electrons).

What is the matter with you, that you are not conscious of God’s Majesty? (71:13)

We also know that molecules are a combination of atoms that form a larger body or a different material. For example, two hydrogen atoms (gas) form a bond with an oxygen atom (gas) to create a liquid (water or H2O). This comparison of the universe and the oxygen atom raises questions; is our solar system a minor part of a much larger body? Is it possible that our knowledge is limited and we cannot comprehend that bigger picture? Based on such limitations, would it not be irrational to even question the existence of Allah? Nevertheless, it happens.

Using Theories to Disprove Allah’s Existence

The Big Bang Theory and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution are the main arguments used against creationism or Allah’s existence. To use theories in this way, an explanation of the difference between theory and fact is needed. There are several definitions of theory; however, the simplest explanation is that, theories are not facts. Now, it is necessary to define what a fact is. For something to be considered as fact, it has to be subjected to the scientific method. The scientific method consists of three main steps; observation, theory and prediction (testing). As is evident by the scientific method steps, theory is one step in that process. Based on today’s scientific principles, the debate for disproving Allah’s existence falls apart if it is based on the Big Bang Theory. Firstly, the use of theories to disprove the existence of Allah will only satisfy the weak of faith (iman). The Big Bang Theory is based on the premise that, at some point in the history of the universe; time, space (time-space fabric) and matter were created from nothingness. Beyond that instant in time, there are no theories or explanations for the creation of the universe. Even with the support of today’s science, it is easy to conclude that, this is a weak argument. To imply that the universe was created from nothing and to use this to deny Allah’s existence is a state of denial. Without a plausible explanation for the creation of the universe, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution loses its importance simply because; before life could be created, the universe had to have existed.

The Evolution of Science

It has to be realized that science is an evolving discipline/process and will change with time. Some examples of bad or evolving science are: during the dark ages, one method of curing the sick was to slit their wrists and allow the bad blood to bleed out. Another example of bad science is that, the earth is the center of the universe, and another is that smoking minimizes the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (the victim dies by smoking related disease before they get the Alzheimer) and let’s not forget, Pluto is no longer a planet. With this type of scientific mishaps, it is entirely possible that some modern theories will be subject to the same fate.

Islam and Knowledge

The Qur’an and Hadiths have provided truth, meaning and knowledge throughout the ages and will continue to do so until the end of time. As man’s knowledge grows (through Allah’s guidance and science) the meaning of the Qur’an becomes vivid. What was not known yesterday is now known. This is partly because of the progression of science but mostly because of a person’s degree of faith (iman). Islam encourages the seeking of knowledge as demonstrated by verses in the Qur’an such as; “[58:11] …Allah will raise up to (suitable) ranks (and degrees) those of you who believe and who have been granted knowledge, [20:114] High above all is Allah, the King, the Truth. Do not be in haste with the Qur’an before its revelation to you is completed, but say, “O my Sustainer! Increase my knowledge, [16:8] …and He creates other things beyond your knowledge…”.

Caution is required when comparing Islam with science, simply because of man’s limited knowledge and the fact that science itself is an evolving process/discipline. Presently, there are convincing comparison of verses of the Qur’an with science in regards to; the origin of the universe, origin of life, expansion of the universe and the embryo. While Islam encourages the seeking of knowledge, it would be prudent to use the verses of the Qur’an to verify that science is on the right track and not vice versa. Let’s consider, if science were to be used to justify the verses of the Qur’an today; would the Qur’an be incorrect when the science changes tomorrow?

Private school, public school or Islamic school? – that is the question.

By: Sr. Nussrat Masood

For parents getting ready to send their kids to school, here are some words of wisdom from Omair Hamid, a former Winnipegger who did very well for himself masha Allah. I contacted him via email and got these responses to my questions.

Which high school did you graduate from?

Shaftesbury High

Was that a public school or a private school?

Public

What is your current occupation?

IT Security consultant

How do you think your private/public education helped you become accomplished?

I do not think there is much difference between public and private school… but entering a top Canadian university, I did notice that the students that were exceptional were the ones that took on the heaviest course loads in high school. These are the students who went through the IB (International Baccalaureate) program, or did 4 or 5 AP (Advance Placement) courses in their senior year. Both these programs are available in both public and private institutions. I suppose the resources available in a private school may make accessibility to these programs easier.

What kind of student is suited for public school?

A student who is self motivating and can get extra work done will do fine in public school. As long as they don’t measure themselves against the standards set by public schools, which is far too low, or by the majority of their peers, they will be fine.

What kind of student is suited for private school?

A student who requires constant pushing, or needs to compare himself to others to be motivated to do more work will find it more helpful to be in a private school because the standards and quality of students will be slightly higher.

What kind of student is suited for full time Islamic school?

Full time Islamic schools are good for those students that have a lack of Muslim friends. The best way to stay strong in iman and deen is to surround yourself with encouraging, like-minded people, which is the greatest benefit of Islamic schools. If the parents can ensure that their children are supplementing their school work with higher standards (AP or IB or whatever), but are worried about the environment and social circle of their kids, then Islamic school may be the best option.

Looking back, what advice would you give students?

Marks are not everything. Do as much work in the community as possible from an early age, even if it eats into your study time. Learn to study more efficiently, so you have more time to be an active member of your society. You will be a better Muslim, make more friends, learn about the world, be smarter, be better prepared for life.

What advice would you give fellow parents with regards to their child’s education?

Reward your children’s effort (and punish their laziness), not their results.

Here are some rough guidelines to keep in mind. These are my own opinions after having been raised in Winnipeg and graduated from high school here as well:

  1. Not all private schools are created equal. A good private school will cost around ten thousand dollars per year per child. That is a significant sum of money and should not be wasted on a bad private school. If you have the financial resources (masha Allah) to invest in your child, then here are the schools to consider: St. Mary’s Academy, Balmoral Hall, St. Paul’s College, St. John’s Ravencourt and the U of W Collegiate.
  2. Not all public schools are created equal. When I was young students were only welcome in the schools in the area in which they lived. That is not the case everywhere in Winnipeg. Students have the option of going to many schools now. That may mean extra travel time, car pooling, or even moving, but consider it. It is worth it. Unfortunately there are many instances of drugs, violence and teen pregnancies in schools. Make sure your kid is going to schools with lower occurrences. The province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg are divided up into different school districts. There are good schools in each school district but you will need to visit the schools, talk to the principals, talk to the teachers and make a very great and concentrated effort to decide which school deserves the honour of educating your child. Consult parents of students who were educated in Winnipeg or Manitoba for further opinions. Pembina Trails school division should be considered.
  3. Every child is different. Every child has different needs. Make sure your kid gets what he/she need from the school. If your child needs ESL programs (English as a Second Language) make sure the school offers it and has many qualified professionals so that your child is getting as much attention as possible. Teacher to student ratio is important. The better the ratio the better the opportunities for your child. If your child needs sports, make sure your school offers many different teams and make sure the teams are actually good and win often because that’s a sign they have good coaches. If your child likes a particular subject (Physics, Math, English, Art, etc.) make sure the teachers are qualified to teach that subject. If your child has a gift for carpentry or other trades, make sure those programs are available. All teachers need a Bachelor of Education to teach but they don’t need an undergraduate degree in the field they are teaching. Try and find gifted teachers. This will be difficult.
  4. School can be horribly boring sometimes. There is a lot of material to get through and if your teacher doesn’t love and I do mean love teaching, then it will be difficult for your child. The school system has in many cases bleached the fun out of learning. For this reason, you will need to supplement your child’s learning with educational outings to spark their curiosity from time to time. Malls, movie theatres and amusements parks are okay but also consider going to the zoo, the planetarium, the museum, the library, the bookstore, take art classes, go camping, watch a live play, etc. Try and find job shadow opportunities for your child as well.
  5. Turn off the tv. A television is not ever meant to give your child companionship. Your child certainly doesn’t need a tv in their bedroom either. There should be a limit to the amount of tv that is watched per week. Internet usage should be supervised as well. Your kids will watch what you do. If you would like your kids to read more, then make sure you read to them when they’re kids. As they age, consider discussing books together or getting magazine subscriptions. If you need something to watch together consider documentaries of fascinating things like animals or volcanoes or whatever else is age appropriate and interesting to your child.
  6. Make your kids efficient learners. Keep them busy. Your kids should also be enriched spiritually. There are youth halaqas (Islamic learning circles), camps, Quran classes, etc. Your kids should be involved in the Muslim community and it should be a part of their identity. Consider enrolling them into activities like swimming lessons, taekwondo, wall-climbing etc. as well.
  7. Parental involvement is crucial. There is no substitute for parental involvement. You need to know how your child is doing in school and what they need from you to do better. If your child is finding school difficult, go to a school counsellor together and address the issues.
  8. University is a completely different environment. Most University professors do not teach. Most University professors do not know how to teach. They are researchers that are forced to teach students to fulfill their contractual obligations. For every one hour a student spends in lecture hall a student needs to spend two hours of study on their own. This is a huge adjustment. Consult the University learning assistance center for more professional advice.

Notes Towards an Analysis of the MIA Crisis Between February 6th and June 6th, 2010

By: Br.Youcef Soufi

I want to relate two stories. The first is about Islam; and the second is about the West. While stories about Islam and the West are well known to us, the stories I want to tell here are somewhat new.

My stories will not end up labeling one group as depraved and the other as godly or one group as backwards and the other as progressive. Rather explanation and elucidation on a very particular matter is my goal: I want to use these stories to encourage us to think about how what happened to the MIA, between February 6th and June 6th, 2010, could have happenedat all. After all, I think that what struck many of us was that what unfolded in the MIA simply does not happen in other Manitoban institutions and organizations outside of our Muslim community.

It is difficult, for example, for us to conceive that our schools, hospitals, legislature, etc., could ever be controlled for months by one individual who has no regard for their official rules, has virtually no support among those who have legal authority over the institutions, and engages time and again in plain defamation, which is a criminal offense under Canadian law. So while we might rejoice at the founding of a new executive that is committed to upholding the constitution, my hope is that what follows will serve as a catalyst for sober reflection from our community as to how to prevent this from reoccurring.

My two stories about Islam and the West seek to reveal two different ways by which a society can gain stability and order. I want to suggest that we as Muslims have inherited a very different tradition than that of the West in this regard, and that this has a significant impact on the management and operations of our organizations today.

I could begin the story on Islam anywhere prior to the modern era, but the point is more forceful if we start earlier than later because it shows the pervasiveness in our community of the trait I want to highlight. We find a famous tradition about the Khalifa Ali (R): a man asks Ali, “Why is there so much turmoil in your era and not in the time of Umar and Abu Bakr.” The answer of Ali was quick and blunt: “Because they ruled over people like me and I rule over people like you.” In short, the Caliph was instructing his followers that the state of a society depends upon the moral integrity of its members.

For the Khalifa, it was because the companions were imbued with moral qualities from the Prophet that their society was not only stable but could forge an empire in a matter of a few years. Otherwise stated, being good Muslims equals having a good society. This is because good Muslims are imbued with qualities like honesty, trustworthiness, obedience to those in authority, and diligence, necessary for collective striving towards a common goal. What is perhaps more important is that when we examine the method through which Muslims were and still are supposed to gain their moral virtues, we find that it is done in two steps: first, there is mutual exhortation among believers, hence the terms tadhkir, maweezha , and naseeha, expressed in such settings as the Friday sermon. Second, there is personal effort or individual striving to adopt good habits or morals through good actions, whether they be prayer or helping one’s brother in need. In both steps, it is important to note that the individual must recognize the truth of the Islamic moral teachings and be committed to following them through. Our heritage then, counts or depends on individual conscience or on changing the hearts of Muslims to ensure that they do the right thing.

The second story that I want to present begins to take shape in the late 17th century Europe. This is a society that for various reasons does not have much faith in human nature or the human ability to reflect high virtues. The thinkers of this society are turning their attentions not towards the hearts of individuals that make up the sum of society but are beginning to theorize about society as a system. Thinkers such as the physiocrats in France and Adam Smith in Britain were emblematic of this way of thinking. Their hope was to organize society in such a way that human selfishness, avarice, or deceitfulness would not harm society’s stability and economic prosperity.

Like the method of instilling virtues in Islam, this was historically done in two steps. The first was to organize an economic system, which, despite having fixed and rigid rules, nonetheless made it possible for men to seek out their economic self-interest and amass the amount of wealth which they desired. This is still today how we sometimes speak of capitalism—as a system that is based on self-interest. Bernard Mandeville famously characterized this situation as making “private vices” into “public virtues.” The other step was to ensure that those who broke the rules would be denied their desires. This depended on various mechanisms of surveillance and of punishment. Leadership started to become increasingly divided, like the checks and balances we know so well from the United States government. As for the masses, they were increasingly subject to various state institutions, like schools, the army, and hospitals, in which rules were scrupulously applied and where they learnt that disobeying rules would only end to their detriment. Another way we could call these two methods is to say they reflected a social system of “carrots and sticks”, i.e. rewards and punishments.

By the early 19th century, Europe was undeniably becoming more militarily capable than Muslim states. In response, Muslim thinkers began to ponder about the reasons why. Many, such as the Egyptian Rifa’ al Tahtawi and Khayr al Din al Tunisi, located the problem specifically in our lack of those social mechanisms in the West that I mentioned above. They used the term “civilization” not in a moral sense, but to designate this system that encouraged members of society to work diligently and collectively for the state’s prosperity. As a result they did not believe that Islam was at odds with European mechanisms of civilization.

However, by the early 20th century, it became evident to thinkers such as Rachid Ridda and Hassan al Bannah that the effects of adopting the social mechanisms of Europe could actually affect the individual virtues of Muslims in a negative manner: thinking about the reasons that made Europe stable and productive societies then gave way to concerns about how to retain Islam in a world that had in fact adopted many of the West’s institutions.

When we look to our community today we find the legacy of the history of Islam that I have related. When people seem apathetic to organizing activities for the community, when leadership is remiss in its expected duties, and when there is conflict between Muslims, our initial reaction is exhortation—naseeha, maweezha, and tadhkir. Statements like “brothers, we have to care about our community and get involved,” or “leadership is a trust, we shouldn’t violate it” or still, “as brothers and sisters, we have to be kind and respectful to one another” abound. But establishing mechanisms that reward good behaviour and monitor abuse of power are virtually nonexistent. We have not, for example, established official review boards to periodically monitor the performance of the executive council of the MIA or made use of salaries to motivate the most capable people to fulfill positions within the MIA. While our community would be a sad one if we abandoned the notion of mutual exhortation towards being righteous, it is perhaps time we think about the ways in which we can neutralize the darker sides of human nature by creating mechanisms for the monitoring, punishing, and rewarding of those in positions of trust in our community.

How to Agree to Disagree: Restructuring Negative Thinking this Ramadan

By: Br. Abdulrehman Abdulrehman

Most civilized societies pride themselves on their ability to learn from the mistakes of previous societies. Even within societies there are individuals who are determined to pursue/achieve self-improvement. They strive to avoid the mistakes made by not only those before them, but those around them, to improve their present lives, and also their futures. I remember, as a child in this community, the youth watching community meetings deteriorate to petty squabbles and at times, physical violence. To children at that time, the flaws in the process of these meetings seem so clear. Yet, interestingly, as adults we seem doomed to repeat the same mistakes we had previously laughed at.

Although the source for disagreements may vary, a common thread that runs through these conflicts is the inability to agree to disagree. Many will argue the certainty of their position, without being aware of the validity of another perspective. Although once a primary contributor to our growth as a global community, the coexistence of diverse thought (even within Islamic perspectives) has become difficult for many to withstand, each of us an island arguing the validity of a sole/single point of view.

Islamic scholars denote a variety of issues that have contributed to this phenomenon of disintegration of unification in our communities. This ranges from addressing the basics of adaab and Islamic etiquette in dealing with conflict and disagreement, to our levels of imaan and how that affects our ability to communicate well with each other. Needless to say, the issue identified is that in order for us to change a community, we need to start with a change in ourselves.

From the study of psychology, we know that the way we think can alter the way we see life, and hence how we behave. This includes the ways in which we see each other, interpret the behaviours of others, and the ways in which we respond to them. The perspectives we hold in life are some of the most influential predictors to our behaviours and our feelings. Learning to handle conflict better, and to learn how to agree to disagree, is dependent on us changing our perspectives to something more functional. Psychologists have identified numerous distortions in thinking that negatively influence our mood, behaviour, and hence dealings with others. Noted below are some of these distortions in thinking for us to consider, which may assist us in positively changing our perspectives, and hopefully allow us to better deal with conflict.

Emotional Reasoning: One of the most common distortions in thinking is that of emotional reasoning. This occurs when we use our feelings as a gauge on reality, when in fact, our feelings are a reflection of our interpretation, rather than the absolute truth. It is worse when we use these feelings as a guide to making decisions. If our interpretations are incorrect, the outcome can be disastrous.

Labelling: Labelling occurs when we make assumptions about people, and label them with a title or quality we’ve assumed about them. If we are quick to assume things about a person or a situation, it leaves us less able to see other things about them or the situation that are crucial to the understanding of them. This also applies to labelling ourselves. If we are set on labelling ourselves, we assume we are doing everything to live up to that label, when in fact, we may not be. Labelling can make us complacent in the way in which we see ourselves and others.

All or Nothing Thinking: This occurs when we think of people, situations, or anything for that matter, in absolute terms, like “always”, “every” or “never”. Few aspects of human behavior are so absolute. If we don’t leave room to see the gray (versus black or white), we can often blind ourselves to what may actually be happening.

Overgeneralization: Similar to the above, overgeneralization occurs when we take isolated cases and use them to make wide and sweeping generalizations.

Mental Filter: At times, we can filter out important pieces of information about people or a situation. When we use a mental filter, we focus exclusively on a negative and upsetting detail of something or someone, ignoring many other components, which may be very positive.

Jumping to Conclusions: This type of thinking occurs when we assume a negative outcome, even when there is little to no evidence to support it. There are two types of this distortion.

  • Mind Reading: when we assume to know the intentions of others.
  • Fortune Telling: when we predict how things will occur, before they even happen.

If we ignore the distortions in thinking noted above, our faults in thinking can not only lead to conflict with others, but also negatively affect our own personalities. Furthermore, ignoring them can also lead to a false sense of validation of negative beliefs. For example, a distortion in thinking can influence the way in which we deal with others, and in turn have them react negatively toward us, fulfilling our original negative (and possibly incorrect) perception of them. This highlights our need to be vigilant in our thoughts and ever mindful of the distortions that can occur.

The distortions outlined above are very common to mankind. In fact, many of you will recognize that these concepts mirror what we are taught in our faith, and that improving these distortions, would in fact assist us in gaining patience and increasing the quality of our personalities. The patience derived from restructuring negative thoughts, allows us a mindfulness that can assist us in tolerating disagreement and better allow us to come to a resolution. After all, Allah is with those who are patient.

Manitoba Islamic Association as a Community Organization: From Membership to Ownership

By: Dr. Idris Elbakri*

The Manitoba Islamic Association (MIA) was established over 40 years ago to serve the interests and represent Muslims of Manitoba. The pioneers who established the association had the foresight to structure it as a membership-based organization. Membership is a right to every Muslim in Manitoba who adheres to the values and constitution of the organization and chooses to join and pay the membership fee. The membership of MIA holds the ultimate authority over the affairs of the organization and it delegates, through elections, management of the affairs to an executive council consisting of seven people.

In the recent past, most of us have come to think of membership as merely a means to vote in the MIA elections. Holding elected office in MIA, especially the position of president, became a much sought after goal. We have seen aggressive membership drives, often spearheaded by potential candidates who sometimes even subsidize the fees. There is nothing illegal in that, but whether it is ethical and inline with the spirit that the community upholds is a different story. Is that what membership is all about?

I call on all Muslims in our community to become members of MIA, but don’t think about membership in the very narrow scope of elections and power, but rather, as a way for all of us to assert the values of community service, participation, and brotherhood. Let your membership be a practical way in which you implement the Prophet’s Hadith where he said, “who is not concerned about the affairs of the Muslims is not one of them”. In short, we need to move from membership to ownership. You will achieve a sense of ownership when you feel that you have a personal (but not selfish) stake in this organization and in the affairs of the community. When you feel the communal pain, and celebrate the communal achievement. When you look around in your masjid and you think to yourself, I am working to make this a better place. When you help foster a feeling of safety and ease for all members of the community in their places of worship and gathering.

Over 90% of the affairs of MIA are managed through volunteers. While there is a tremendous need to professionalize the management of the organization, promoting a strong volunteerism ethic must remain a core value for our community. Have you ever asked yourself: who pays the bills, who checks the mail, who updates the website, who puts tape on the floor for Eid prayer, who sets up the audio system, who cuts the grass, who manages the weekend school and who distributes charity? All of these activities are carried out by volunteers. Are you one of them? If you are, you do not need to be thanked because you do it for a higher purpose. If you’re not, maybe you should consider giving a bit of yourself for your community.

The MIA executive council is establishing a number of committees including office administration, green space, properties management, event organization, community programs, fundraising and takaful. The functions of these committees are the bare-minimum that is needed to operate the organization and meet a minimum of the community’s needs and expectations. Details about these committees and their executive liaisons are posted on the MIA website. Volunteering to staff these committees is a great way to contribute to the well being of our community and to have a direct say in the affairs of the MIA.

Let’s go from passive observers to committed members, and from committed members to active owners.

* Idris Elbakri is the president of the Manitoba Islamic Association executive council. He can be reached at president@miaonline.org

Poem: Reality Check

By: Shaheena Awan

We believe in Allah
But have no fear
We love RasoolAllah
But we don’t care
We did read Quran
But don’t remember
We like our Masajids
But don’t respect
We do have knowledge
But no wisdom
We know what taqwa is
But don’t connect
We have a large community
But have no unity
We have leadership
But no sincerity
We have a thick agenda
But full of propaganda
We love to shine our name
And love to have some fame
I am sorry to say what a shame
We forgot our duties
And we lost our beauty
We are breaking our rules
And we are losing our youths
We want to build community
But we are using wrong tools
Patience, sacrifice, salaam
Ikhlaas, Ikhlaq, respect
Brotherhood, sisterhood
We have all the ingredients
But we don’t have a recipe

You Are What You Eat!

By: Harun Cicek

Bismillahirrahmanirrahim, All Praise is due to Allah!

As Muslims, we take pride in the “purity” of our religion in both physical and spiritual sense. For instance, there is great emphasis in Quran and in the example of our Prophet (saw) on personal hygiene and eating wholesome, halal food. Many great scholars have equated the purification of heart with the purification of our body, soul and food. Therefore, aside from the ‘halal or haram’ discussion, it is important to reflect on what is ‘pure and good food’. The following beautiful and comprehensive Hadith illustrates the significance of this issue:

Abu Hurairah, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said: “Verily Allah the Exalted is pure. He does not accept but that which is pure. Allah commands the believers with what He commanded the Messengers. Allah the Almighty has said: “O you Messengers! Eat of the good things and act righteously” [23:51-53]. And Allah the Almighty also said: “O you who believe! Eat of the good things that We have provided you with” [2:167-172].Then he (the Prophet) mentioned (the case of) the man who, having journeyed far, is dishevelled and dusty and who stretches out his hands to the sky (saying): “O Lord! O Lord!” (while) his food was unlawful, his drink was unlawful, his clothing was unlawful, and he is nourished with unlawful things, so how can he be answered?” [Muslim]

There are many other Quranic verses and Hadiths, specifically dealing with pure, good and wholesome foods and their importance. These references are not necessarily talking about halal or haram foods, rather, they are explicitly referring to the purity and goodness of food. All good and pure food -within the Islamic boundaries- can be halal but not all apparently what is often called halal food is good and pure. Alhamdullilah, when it comes to technical details of slaughtering, we can differentiate between halal and haram meats but how about what happens to that animal before it is slaughtered? Here, our intention is not to define, discuss or declare what is halal or haram, but rather, the intention is that through what is presented in this commentary, Muslims resume to the vigilance of our righteous ancestors regarding what is filling their stomach. “That flesh which has grown out of Haraam food will not enter Jannah. Hell has more right to it” (Ahmad: Tirmidhi).

Before the industrial revolution food was produced in simple manner; in harmony with Allah’s creation, good and pure. Especially after the Second World War, however, agriculture has undergone a rapid transformation in the direction of mechanisation, extensive chemical dependency and biotechnology. Environmental degradation caused by such modern agriculture practices have been well documented over the years. Less researched, however, is the health implications of mass production agriculture and its offshoot, the processed food industry.

This subject may cause some confusion because most people, not involved in agriculture, are unaware of the methods employed in modern agriculture to produce food. Some may even ask; what could be impure about agriculture and food? In our minds, we still have the image of those idyllic farms with green pastures and happy animals, but the reality draws a different picture. The picture of abused animals, eroded soil, lost biodiversity, chemical residues and genetic modification. This reality, in my opinion, is far from being good and pure.

Lets briefly investigate how crops are grown in conventional agriculture. From seed to harvest, crops are constantly under the “protection” of chemicals. Some seeds are coated with fungicides, and then crops are sprayed during the season with herbicides, pesticides and fungicides, and on top of all these, some are sprayed again before the harvest in order to desiccate and easily harvest the crop. One should consider how much chemical residue would be left on these crops and whether they are “good and pure”.

Beside the excessive application of chemicals, many crops are also genetically modified in order to increase yields or create resistance to pests and herbicide applications. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are created by taking a gene from one organism (animals or plants) and inserting it to the other species. If we don’t “create” them, they will not appear in Allah’s nature randomly. In Europe, food containing GMOs must be labelled accordingly, but in North America such food is not labelled. The chances are that if you eat any kind of processed food, you consume the GMOs in the form of by-products or directly, especially, from corn, soy beans and canola. SubhanAllah, Satan is keeping his word and working hard to make us disobey our Rabb; “I will mislead them and I will order them to slit the ears of cattle, and to deface the (fair) natural creation of Allah.” (4: 119).

In the above discussion we briefly investigated how Satan ordered us to “deface the (fair) natural creation of Allah”. Now, let’s look at the meat we eat and how we are, again, following the Satan’s orders. Let’s question where the meat that we eat comes from and how were the animals for slaughter are raised. Surely, we all remember the “mad cow” disease but how many of us actually thought about it? Just because Muslims eat halal meat, it doesn’t mean that we are immune to such diseases. Unfortunately, most of the time, the source of halal and non-halal supermarket meat are the same. Today most animals are raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), under unhealthy, and unnatural conditions. They have barcodes on labels inserted in their ears (slitting the ear? Allah hu Alim), containing all the information regarding the animal. Thousands of animals confined in these buildings are fed with feed that contains mostly soy or corn, animal by-products (fat, crushed bones, feather, intestines etc…) from all kinds of animals, antibiotics, synthetic minerals and vitamins. Allah has created these animals vegetarian and made their metabolism to handle only grasses and forages. But the modern agriculture forces them to eat things that are against their nature. That is one of the reasons that they have to be given antibiotics, because their metabolism cannot handle this diet. Remember the “mad cow” disease; a result of feeding animals with animal by-products.

Agriculture is the largest consumer of antibiotics worldwide. Recently, Silbergeld et al. (2008) reviewed the antimicrobial resistance, which they defined as the “major health crisis” because this resistance is “eroding the discovery of antimicrobials and their application to clinical medicine”. In the same article they commented that “CAFOs are comparable to poorly run hospitals, where everyone gets antibiotics, patients lie in unchanged beds, hygiene is nonexistent, infections and re-infections are rife, waste is thrown out the window, and visitors enter and leave at will. Finally, because these large numbers of animals produce large amounts of waste, which are largely untreated prior to land disposal, there are substantial environmental pathways of release and exposure.”

Chickens are also raised in such, maybe even worse, circumstances. Chickens in these surroundings get stressed and attack other chickens, hence, for this reason, beaks of these chickens, often times, have to be cut. With the diet containing animal by-products, chickens grow so fast that in 45 days they cannot carry themselves and their weight can break their legs until they are ready for slaughter. Sheep are, so far, in better condition especially because, it is not, as yet, profitable to put them in CAFOs.

Then, there is the issue of animal welfare. We all know that our Prophet (PBUH) treated animals with care and compassion and ordered us to follow his example. Animals in CAFOs are treated against their nature. They are essentially tortured. They will ask for their rights on the day of judgement!

What should we be eating then? Before answering this question consider that it is a duty of a Muslim to investigate carefully what is going into his/her stomach. What we eat is what makes us who we are. Impure food and behaviour will make our ummah impure. We are not only responsible for our own health but also responsible for the health of this planet and all creatures therein.

Now if we choose to put effort into obtaining food that is pure then there are options for the seekers. Organic products are widely available in most grocery stores. Organic production is in line with Allah’s nature and produces wholesome pure food without the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides and genetic modification. There are also local farms around Winnipeg, which are respectful of Allah’s creatures and grow pure food. You can visit these farms and buy meat and produce directly from them (see references for one of the local organizations).

Lastly, it should be recognized that, Muslims should always lead the way to righteousness. Allah says in Quran; “You are the best community raised up FOR mankind, you enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil…”(3:110) As Muslims let’s strive to choose what is pure and be exemplary in our lifestyle for the rest of mankind.

In conclusion, the simple logic of “halal =good and pure” may not hold true in today’s food systems in especially industrialized countries. If we want to be pure and clean, we must be vigilant and selective about our actions.

“Truly, what is halal is evident, and what is haram is evident, and in between the two are matters which are doubtful which many people do not know. He who guards against doubtful things keeps his religion and honor blameless, and he who indulges in doubtful things indulges in fact in haram things. Sahih Bukhari (Hadith # 50) & Muslim (Hadith # 2996)

** Br. Harun Cicek is a masters’ student at the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Manitoba researching on organic farming. He is also the education coordinator for the Muslim Student Association at the University of Manitoba.


References:

Sapkota A. R., Lefferts L. Y., McKenzie S., and Walker P. 2007. What Do We Feed to Food-Production Animals? A Review of Animal Feed Ingredients and Their Potential Impacts on Human Health Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 115, Number 5.

Silbergeld E. K., Graham J., and Price L. B., 2008. Industrial Food Animal Production, Antimicrobial Resistance, and Human Health. Annual Review of Public Health Vol. 29: 151-169

Eco Green Tips Website available at http://ecogreentips.com/the-truth-behind-your-meat-part-i/ (Accessed on December 05, 2009)

The Greenpeace Canada Shoppers GMO Guide. Available at http://gmoguide.greenpeace.ca/ (Accessed on December 05, 2009)

Harvest Moon Local Food Initiative, available at http://www.harvestmoonfood.ca/ (Accessed on December 06, 2009)

Islam and The West… The Way Forward

Sr. Asma Mneina*

The words “Islam” and “Media” may as well be synonyms because as much as Islam is a way of life, the media seems to have taken over the prophecy and taught the masses a different Islam than the prophet Muhammad had preached in the seventh century AD. Today, it is without a doubt the 21st century is one different than many others. When once human kind looked up at the sky in awe of the Milky Way, and in wonderment of the stars today the media seems to be the most powerful force in the universe. As the world has become suffocatingly superficial, people (whether consciously or not) look to the media for ideas to take on board into their own lives. The media has the ability to shave the minds of the masses. It is no surprise that Muslims are amongst the most marginalized groups. However, instead of focusing on the influence it has on Islam, why not focus on the influence Islam can have on the media.

The Quran gives mankind a clear mission; to create a fair society where all members are treated with respect. We need to create this society and the media is standing in our way. What do we do? Well, we can’t harm the media- it’s too big! Just kidding. There are more.. Muslim ways to deal with this problem. In a nutshell, we must eliminate Islamophobia. We have a history of Islamophobia in western culture that dates back to the crusades. In the 12th century, Christian monks in Europe insisted that Islam was a religion of the sword. The west receives the distorted image of Muhammad and seem to be keen to accept it. As Muslims living in Manitoba, Canada, we are stuck in the middle- part of our identity is here in the west, and the other is with the Muslims in the East. We must use our knowledge of Islam to our advantage as we are the first to be influenced by the media. After September 11th, 2001 many Christian sects, states and westerners have continued to view Muhammad negatively. Before we can get anywhere, the west has to realize that this hostility and Islamophobia gives extremists on the other end of the stereotypes a reason to hate. They can easily claim that the west is on some kind of crusade against the Islamic world. The western culture, as we know is one of tolerance and liberty. However, if western media continues to distort the image of Islam, consequently, the image of the west is indirectly distorted.

In the novel, “The God Delusion”, Richard Dawkins states that “the unhappiest spectacle to be seen in our streets today is the image of a woman swathed in shapeless black from head to toe, peering out at the world through a tiny slit.” Dawkins views the burka as an Islamic instrument of oppression. What Dawkins doesn’t know is the view of devoted Muslim women. Ones that don’t find it to be a “repression of their liberty and their beauty”. What Dawkins doesn’t know is that Muhammad was more loving to his wives than any other man, and that true Muslim men do not take part in “cruelty” and that Muslim women are not “cowed into female submission”. Muslim men and women need to speak out about their rights in Islam- give the world their perspective on Islam, rather than solely stand by and allow their neighbours and peers to receive a false Islamic education from people who’s goal is to terrorize the religion.

Youth should always be critical of everything. Islam included. Religion has always been something that many followed blindly. What’s different about Islam is that it appeals to our reasoning. We have the ability to question anything in our religion because our religion has the logic to provide necessary answers to support itself. This critical thinking must also be applied to our daily lives. It’s no secret that media is everywhere. Thus, we must be able to escape it, in order to think for ourselves and find our bearing in this fast paced world. We need to protect our minds from it and sensor the information for ourselves. The Muslim masses need to be tied in closer to the intellects and scholars. There is no way Islam can be unified unless the intellects are available. Islam is not as strong as it once was. Like a Rope was once sturdy, it’s now worn out and divided into strands that are running thin. So before we try to start bettering the image of Islam from the outside, let’s strengthen ourselves from the inside, and then take on the task together.

Sr. Asma Mneina*is a high school student and the winner of the Manitoba Muslim 10th anniversary best article competition.

“Is their any reward for good other than good” – Ten Years of Devoted Service

By: Br. Abdo Eltassi*

Islamic Social Services Association was established in 1999 at a meeting of 60 Muslim social workers, mental health professionals and counselors; both professionals and paraprofessionals in Washington. Visionary founders of ISSA are: the late Dr. Maryam Funchess, Dr. Aneesah Nadir, Dr Bilqis Eltarab and Shahina Siddiqui. The following highlights some of the achievements of ISSA-Canada. We thank Allaah SWT for these blessings. In 2003, ISSA split into 2 sister but independent organizations, one in USA and one in Canada. Both organizations work in collaboration and are registered charities.

Recognizing the need, ISSA-Canada founded the Canadian Muslim Women’s Institute (CMWI) and launched it in 2006. It took 4 years of planning and organizing to bring this to fruition. CMWI is now an independent organization with its own governing board. It rents space from ISSA and is located in the same building as the ISSA office. The two organizations continue to collaborate and cooperate in serving the Muslim community and the larger society.

Assessing the need for succession and leadership development, ISSA initiated the establishment of Canadian Muslim Leadership Institute (CMLI). ISSA helped organize and hosted a community-wide forum with representation from all Muslim organizations in Manitoba to consult, recommend and form the advisory council to direct and govern the formation and management of CMLI. ISSA will be the fiscal agent (what does this mean…will ISSa be fundin the CMLI operations until it has access to its own funds?) for the Institute until it can stand on its own. ISSA plans to make this a national initiative

Identifying the critical gap in culturally and spiritually compatible counseling services particular to Muslims, ISSA has started the process of establishing Muslim Counseling Services ( MCS). ISSA has initiated capacity building in this area through training of counselors and research in the logistics involved in actualizing such services.

Concluding that a serious lack of capacity exists for trained Muslim foster homes, and family services ISSA, has partnered with Child and Family Services, Manitoba to inform train and recruit a pool of Muslim Foster Parents in the province and then plans to take it national.

Feedback from the community especially from newcomers has focused ISSA’s attention on the serious lack of understanding and trust that exist between the newcomer community and the justice system, law enforcement and Child and Family Services. To this end, ISSA has secured funding from the Manitoba Law Foundation to research and produce informational brochures to educate the Muslim community on Canadian family law and the role of law enforcement, as well as those of hospitals and schools when dealing with cases of domestic violence and of child abuse. This research will also focus on drawing parallels from Islamic law and Canadian Family (what is Canadian Family? Do u mean “and the Canadian Family”? ) to demonstrate compatibility and similarities.

Building Organizational Capacity and to ensure Succession planning within ISSA is a priority for the organization; to this end ISSA secured funding from Winnipeg Foundation to educate, train and provide internship and mentorship to young members of the community that currently serve as ISSA staff.

To help address racism against Muslims and to raise awareness about Canadian Muslims, ISSA launched and successfully completed a Multi-Media Campaign funded through the Welcoming Communities Initiative with assistance from the Government of Manitoba – Labour and Immigration. This campaign is first of its kind in Canada and is now in the third phase of poster distribution to schools throughout Manitoba and also supports the availability of a Speaker’s Bureau (is this what is meant by this?).

ISSA has assisted in establishing localized Islamic Social Services in various communities across Canada and the USA and provides ongoing training, consultations and sharing of expertise.

Dissemination of Information and Professional “know how” through publications. ISSA’s booklets and brochures are in great demand. ISSA is continuously producing informational booklets as need arises and on request. ISSA’s publications have been reproduced in the United States of America, United Kingdom and Australia. This project was initially funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage; multiculturalism program in 2002.

ISSA’s proactive outreach to other communities and working in collaboration with service providers, agencies (both governmental and private) and interfaith and intercultural cooperation is an outstanding achievement.

Media engagement to help improve communication and understanding of Muslim issues and Islamic perspective is a major strategy of fulfilling ISSA’s mission. ISSA has produced programs on community channels and is regularly sought after by media for comments and interviews. ISSA regularly contributes op-ed and articles in local, national and international publications, journals and newspapers on issues of concern to Muslims and on Islamic faith (is there a website where all of this documentation is lodged so that interested parties can look them up?)

Educational Activities across Manitoba, Canada and the United States 1999 – 2009

65 Conferences organized and/or presented at

800 Trainings and seminars organized and/ presented at

550 Interfaith “hostings”

500 School, university and church presentations

5000+ Providers trained in cultural competency

13 informational booklets published

In addition to the above, ISSA-Canada has been responsible for scores of articles, letters and columns published and numerous (too many to count) media engagements.

“Is their any reward for good other than good”- Ten Years of devoted service

Critical Thinking, Social Justice & Strategic Action

Br. Usman Mohammed*

As Muslims, we learn from our beloved Prophet (pbuh) to strive to achieve three desired goals through our actions. These goals are geared towards ensuring that our actions contain the greatest possible good, have the longest lasting benefits and also ensure they have the widest possible scope. Without doubt, these lofty goals appear hopelessly idealistic, especially in light of various practical constraints imposed by our nature as humans and our surrounding environment. However, we can also argue quite forcefully, that within the limits of human existence and societal constraints, these three objectives can be seen as a form of practical idealism. In this sense, their importance does not necessarily revolve around their attainment, but their role as guiding lights towards ensuring that our actions are well thought-out, carefully executed and sustainable.

In coming to terms with this realization, we inevitably put ourselves in a strong position to appreciate the beauty of our faith and our history, while simultaneously developing a framework for understanding our contemporary challenges and our responses to them. Any Muslim blessed with the opportunity to have modest intellectual encounters with Islamic teachings and the history within which they are embedded learns through the struggle of our beloved Prophet and his companions that the idea of justice is irrevocably wedded into the fabric of Islam. Justice within the Islamic intellectual and spiritual tradition is holistic in the sense that the linkages between its component parts are causal and empirical as opposed to being random and mutually exclusive.

Islam’s preoccupation with justice in the holistic or multidimensional sense is again consistent with two of the core principles that undergird our spiritual, intellectual and philosophical endeavors. The twin principles of balance (Wassatiyyah) and Comprehensiveness (Shumuliyyah) are again clearly resonant of the deep, rich, vibrant and energetic spirit of our faith, its history, its people and its Prophet. These principles are manifested in the actions of our pious predecessors through their unwavering commitment to the truth, their tireless campaign against injustice and the strength they mustered as they stood firm in the face of persecution and remained fearless in the face of tyranny and oppression. Their level of faith and understanding was sublime in every sense of the word. Sometimes too good to be true, yet so true!

But how did this come to be? Or perhaps more importantly, why does our history and our past stand in radical contrast to our contemporary reality? These questions are not new and have been asked at various crisis points in Islamic history. Perhaps what is more troubling for some, is the fact that the sense of crises in our communities has deepened and continues to spiral out of control even as we speak. Some say that the greatest threat at a time of crisis is not the crisis itself, but how we respond to it. If this logic is held to be true, then it is particularly worrying as many of us will be first to admit that our community is an emotional and reactive one.

Emotions are not necessarily bad things. Emotions are normal and consistent with human nature and can sometimes be good. However emotions without discipline, critical mindedness, shared understanding, organization, direction, vision and planning for the future can be extremely harmful. Sometimes the harm done can have serious and enduring repercussions that carry on for many generations. The good thing about our common recognition that we are largely an emotional and reactive community is that it reminds us that we have lost the contemplative element in our response to crisis. We have lost our balance and comprehensiveness in taking both the short and long term consequences of our actions and responses into account.

This realization is crucial in connecting our problems with the practical idealism embedded in the strategic objectives of our actions mentioned earlier. Without a strong contemplative element, it is hard to work towards ensuring that our actions, to the best of our abilities contain the greatest possible good. Clearly, without this element, we cannot extend their benefits to the widest possible scope and thus guarantee an enduring legacy.

More importantly, the absence or lack of the contemplative element, often means that our poorly thought-out responses to crisis and the justifications we use in advancing them, (based on authentic sources of Islamic Jurisprudence as we are often apt to claim) are actually a reprehensible perversion of the original intentions of these sources. We need to move away from being an emotional and reactive community to a more thoughtful and proactive one. We need to restore the contemplative element in our actions and think critically about how we understand our faith and apply that understanding to our responses to the challenges facing us as a community. To think critically is not the same as criticizing people or downgrading their contributions.

We forget easily that even when we find a place to assign blame,, as is often the case when problems arise, this does not make the problem or the crisis go away. Critical thinking entails stepping back, asking tough questions, and demanding solid answers from our leaders and scholars and everyone in a position of authority, in a manner that is humble, respectful, inclusive, responsible and consistent with the spirit of Islam.

As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of our community newsletter, The Manitoba Muslim, let us pause and reflect on the journey so far. We must acknowledge and celebrate some of our successes and recognize that our community is blessed in so many ways. We are a diverse, relatively close knit, prosperous and growing community. We have an established religious presence in different parts of the city. Clearly, we have people within our midst who when pushed to their full potential are capable of providing inspiring leadership to guide us through our challenges as a growing community.

However, we have been unable to effectively mobilize and deploy the various human and material resources at out disposal. In my view, I believe this is due to the fact that many of our services are still largely done by volunteers. Volunteers are an important vehicle for getting things done but beyond a certain point they cannot be as effective and sometimes can be an obstacle to strategic growth. We need to move towards professionalizing many of our activities. This can be done by investing in training and manpower development. In this sense our strategic goal should be to cultivate talent. To look into long term investment in our youth and to help build their confidence, cement their loyalty to the community and prepare them for an enlightened and inspiring leadership that takes our community to the next level.

Clearly, this kind of shift will take time and will not be easy to undertake. However, we are all familiar with the old saying that the journey of a thousand mile begins with the first step. We cannot postpone a long and difficult journey simply because it is long and difficult. We must first convince ourselves that it is a journey that is necessary and must be embarked on. In doing so, we can prepare to undertake it as best as we can, and like our pious predecessors complete the human component of our responsibilities while relying on the Most High for final determination of the outcome. It is important to not overlook our efforts, big or small for we never know which actions can generate the butterfly effect and lead to greater things. As I have learnt through my intellectual engagements with a close friend disillusioned with the crisis in our community that “all work is seed sown, it grows and spreads and sows itself anew”. May Allah open our hearts and minds and expand our horizons, expand our provisions and plant our feet firm on the right path.

* Br. Usman Mohammed is a university student and community volunteer.